Despite the fact that self-driving cars are still years away from being a reality on the road, Tesla is all-in on putting the necessary hardware for all the cars that it builds and delivers henceforth. That means every new Tesla Model 3 and every future model of Tesla will have the necessary sensors and cameras in place for the car to operate without a driver.

However, there’s a catch.

It’s not just Tesla that has the know-how as far as hardware goes. Even though they were one of the first to implement the system on road-going cars with the Autopilot system, much of today’s autonomous car technology is limited to highway operations like changing lanes, controlling the vehicle’s speed and so on.

Real autonomous driving means no driver required, and that’s the elusive Holy Grail of self-driving technology that a myriad of companies are trying to find. The list of companies is long, and includes well-known names like Ford, General Motors, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, BMW, Mercedes, etc. Together with autonomous technology, these companies are also integrating online connectivity in most of the current models. The two are separate but related technologies that essentially rely on cloud computing for real-time data collection, analysis and decision-making for autonomous systems as well as connected cars.

So how is Tesla’s intention different from that of other companies? That lies in what the autonomous systems will actually do – and that’s the catch I referred to.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that it is entirely up to regulators to decide whether to allow such technology on the roads, but also adds that the hardware will, for now, run on “shallow mode”, which basically means it will keep collecting data from the cameras and sensors and then use that data to showcase scenarios where it might have been better to have the car drive itself rather than be operated by a human driver.

Musk hopes that the company will some day be able to showcase these scenarios to regulators to help speed up the process of regulatory approval. That’s something none of the other companies are visibly doing. Most use the data collected from their tests to further improve their system, and none has yet come up with a fully reliable autonomous driving system that can safely be rolled out to the public.

To be fair to the others, Tesla is known for its maverick way of thinking. In contrast, other companies will likely hesitate to put their brand names at stake and release something before it is completely reliable and ready for road use. And essentially, nobody still has a handle on self-driving technology – not even Uber, which is currently testing self-driving cars on the roads of Pittsburgh.

The fact is, truly autonomous driving technology still has a long way to go in its development journey. However, the data that Tesla will now start collecting will help accelerate the process and provide companies with enough insight to create a car that can actually safely drive itself without human intervention.

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